An interview with Kristy Woodson Harvey upon the release of her second novel.
A touching look into the lifetimes of love, heartbreak and resilience of a grandmother and her granddaughter, Lies and Other Acts of Love, due out today, offers insight into the complexities of bonds — of family, friends and everything in between — and the importance of what one does when those bonds are broken. North Carolina author Kristy Woodson Harvey‘s second book is a feel-good must read that is sure to remind you of the cherished memories and relationships in your own life.
The author chatted with Brittany Wallace about developing characters, her advice for aspiring writers and what’s on her spring/summer reading list.
BW: Your latest novel, Lies and Other Acts of Love, tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter, and of the intricacies of family ties and secrets. What inspired you to write this story?
KWH: I knew I wanted to write a different kind of love story, one about a love that survives even the most difficult parts of life. That was Lovey’s story, of course. Annabelle’s story was actually a separate manuscript. I was working on both of them at the same time, but something was missing from each. Then, one night, I had one of those lightbulb moments and decided to combine the two stories. If Annabelle were Lovey’s granddaughter, she could be the key that unlocked the family secrets, and the bonds of this family would be even clearer. Once I decided to do that, I couldn’t stop writing!
BW: How do you choose the setting of each story? What about the South so resonates with you that you have set two novels here?
KWH: First and foremost, since the South is where I have always lived, I know it better than anywhere, I think. But there’s something so special to me about where I grew up … For each story, I just really imagine where the characters would live, where they would eat dinner, what the street looks like that they are walking down, and then I “set” accordingly. I think the South is known for being full of secrets and breeding all sorts of fun stories, so writing about it comes naturally. [Lies and Other Acts of Love is mainly set in Harvey’s hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina, north of Charlotte.]
BW: How do you manage to write from two perspectives and maintain the integrity and uniqueness of each character in doing so?
KWH: I think that goes back to really allowing the characters to become who they want to be. In writing Dear Carolina, it was easy because Khaki and Jodi were so different, but for Lies and Other Acts of Love, one of the points of the story was to display the commonalities between Lovey and Annabelle’s lives and how much Lovey had influenced Annabelle, so there was a fine line to walk there. For me, one of the keys is “knowing” so much more about my characters than ever makes it to the page. I want to be able to imagine their favorite foods and crazy uncles and the time they sprained their ankle in the third grade. It may not go in the book, but the more I can imagine about their lives, the easier it is for them to be their own distinct people.
BW: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
KWH: Keep opening doors, and when they’re all shutting, find a window. Try something new. Go to a conference. Enter a writing contest. If there is a way to get your work in front of an agent or editor who can help you get where you want to be, put your work there. You have to be persistent and resilient. But, also, I think you have to learn to let go a little bit. Maybe you’re in love with your manuscript, but you’ve done everything you can to get it noticed and you haven’t gotten where you wanted to go. Write a new one. Keep believing in yourself, but also be open to opinions. It’s a fine and delicate balance.
BW: What writers inspire you?
KWH: All of them. I mean that honestly. This is a demanding gig on so many levels. You are putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable way, leaving all you have on the page. I think anyone who is brave enough to do that over and over again, knowing that the response could be less than stellar, is incredibly inspirational.
BW: Has anyone told you that your stories have impacted them in some way?
KWH: The response to Dear Carolina in particular blew me away. I had so many people e-mail me or come to my events to tell me their own stories and how Dear Carolina impacted them and allowed them to feel [differently] about their situations. I feel very protective of people’s private stories, but that has been the most fulfilling part of this journey. Knowing that people out there related to this book in such a powerful way was overwhelming. It made me know that this book had a purpose.
BW: How have your stories influenced or impacted your own personal story?
KWH: I have learned so much about myself and how I view the world through writing. It really does help me process my own opinions — even if my characters have the opposite opinion from mine. I also notice that I think a lot more about people’s motives for doing things in my real life now that I’m so attuned to thinking about why my characters do the things they do.
BW: What is on your spring/summer reading list this year?
KWH: I think what’s not on the list is shorter. Can I put that? I have been lucky enough to read several fabulous books before [their release] this spring/summer: The Real Thing by Tina Ann Forkner; The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Genton and Lisa Steinke; The Promise of Forgiveness by Marin Thomas; and Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray by Dorothea Love. They were all incredible. I am currently (finally!) reading The Paris Wife. It is spectacular, as is its author Paula McLain. Next on my nightstand: Z by Therese Anne Fowler, and Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, by Carol Wall. I can’t wait to read Love, Luck, and Lemon Pie by Amy Reichert, and I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around by Ann Garvin. And I’ll of course read the new summer releases by Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Karen White, Jane Green … The list goes on and on and just keeps getting better.
BW: Are you working on anything new, or are there any new developments you can share with us?
KWH: My third book is currently under review by the powers that be at Berkley, and I have recently finished the first draft of my fourth book. Dear Carolina has been optioned for film and was long-listed for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, which was a gigantic honor. I just learned that Lies and Other Acts of Love was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association as an Okra Pick. This has been a truly incredible last month or so in which all of this transpired, and I pinch myself every day. How did this happen? Is this really happening? All I can say is that I love my readers with a ferocity I can’t explain. Ditto the bloggers and reporters who have launched me out into the world. All of you have given me the life I always dreamed of, and, without you, I would just be sitting at my house with a big stack of books, waiting for something to happen.